College often provides more freedoms than students are used to. But university students are not immune from the serious consequences that can accompany an arrest or other dealings with law enforcement.
Students should know their rights when dealing with campus police before a problem occurs or if they need to assert a criminal defense.
Right to remain silent
The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment entitles all Americans to remain silent during police questioning. College students possess this right, and they may assert it against campus police.
Respectfully state that you are exercising your right to refuse to answer questions and to remain silent. Ask to speak with an attorney before answering further questions. Students may also exercise this right if they already answered some questions.
Some colleges, however, may impose discipline or other administrative penalties for refusal to answer police questions.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits searches of your person or apartment unless the police have a warrant or probable cause. However, this may be more complicated at college.
The bar for probable cause is relatively high such as police witnessing a violent act. Smelling marijuana coming from underneath a door does not constitute probable cause. Police may not ask a resident assistant for entry into a dormitory room.
But living in university housing may be different. College rules or rental agreements may allow campus police to inspect student housing. Without explicit consent or a warrant, any illegal items may not be used against students in a criminal investigation. Colleges, however, may impose discipline or bar students from housing.
Driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs has more consequences. The legal penalties are usually the same as those imposed for non-students.
The same rights apply regardless of the stop being conducted by state, local or campus police. Drivers do not have to agree to take a field sobriety test or consent to a blood or alcohol test. Failure to consent to a blood or alcohol test, however, is grounds for the automatic suspension of your driver’s license.
Drivers do not have to agree to a body search unless they are under arrest or a vehicle search. Motorists have the right to remain silent and can refuse to answer questions about what they drank or their activities. But motorists must present their license, registration and proof of insurance if requested.
If you are arrested, take these actions to protect your rights:
- Assert your right to remain silent until you consult with an attorney.
- Remain silent and do not consent to a search even if police act friendly or make threats.
- Make a local phone call. Police cannot listen in on calls to an attorney but may eavesdrop on other calls.
- Never lie, argue, flee, or resist arrest.
If you believe that campus police violated your rights, remember the following:
- Never physically resist an arrest or search.
- Obtain and document the officer’s names and badge and vehicle numbers.
- Film events with your phone.
- Get the names of witnesses and contact them to obtain their statements.
- Submit any complaint about potential violations to the appropriate university officials.
You should learn about your college’s administrative procedures. Learn about your rights to contest their charges and penalties.
If you are entering into a situation where you believe you will be arrested, such as a protest, make appropriate preparations. Memorize your parents’ and attorney’s phone numbers because you may not have your phone. Have an emergency plan to ensure that medications are available for you or your children.